By MICHAEL PERKINS
SEARCH ANY ONLINE PHOTO SHARING PLATFORM and it’s pretty easy to compose a quick list of the categories into which the site’s submissions fall. You’ll see the usual suspects, ranked in order of their appearance, from Sunsets, Landscapes and Kids to Animals, Seascapes and Macro, and so on into the night. However, if I’m honest (and I am, if you catch me on the right day), I’d have to confess that a significant number of my own images more accurately belong under a heading no one actually creates, a category called I Really Like What The Light Is Doing Now.
It always strikes me odd that classifications should exist in art at all. Such appelations are largely the work of clerical people, who decided, long ago, that pictures are supposed to be about something. They are expected to be narrative or explanatory in nature, documents of specific places or experiences. A permanent record of something concrete (or cement, if that’s your preference). Thing is, at some level, many of us fell in love with photography because of magic, not reason. We felt a thrill at doing this and watching that happen. Wait, if I turn it this way, wow, look at that. That’s not the thought pattern of a bean counter. That’s the wonder of a child encountering a new toy.
Every time someone produces what you might call an “absolute” photograph, something that is only about itself and nothing more, the dreaded “A”-word (abstract!) is trotted out and pasted all over the work like some kind of biohazard warning. In fact, making a picture just because I Really Like What The Light Is Doing Now is perfectly sufficient unto itself. Let’s not forget that being able to capture light in a box is not only a flat-out miracle, but, in terms of history, a fairly recent one. Being overawed with joy at just that process alone is still totally appropriate. Emotionally, when it comes to the process of making pictures, we’re still at the baby steps stage, regardless of how sophisticated we currently believe ourselves to be.
The only thing more tedious than trying to corral photos into categories is making photographers feel like they need to explain them, as if that’s even possible. My favorite title for a picture (and the most popular world-wide) is “untitled”, and, even though I apply titles to most of my work, such captions are deliberately constructed as mere snarky wordplay and do not convey any information, much less explain, the pictures. In the same spirit, if I encounter a person whose first reaction to an image is “what’s that supposed to be?”, I stop showing them any pictures thereafter. If I knew what it was supposed to be, I’d take one picture, one time, nail it, and move on. I’m only interested in the pictures I haven’t yet figured out how to make.
Subject matter is a tidy way for some people to divide art into easily sortable bins, and that’s not how the best pictures get made. We need to concentrate less on the bin and more on the stuff that falls to the floor outside it, and to notice, above everything else, What The Light Is Doing Right Now. Celebrating the magic is the only way to ensure that we’ll make more of it in future.